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Sylvia Plath

(1932—1963) poet and writer


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(1932–1963)

US poet, whose career was cut short by her suicide at the age of thirty.

Plath was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the daughter of a professor of biology at Boston University. Her father died in 1940, an event that could have contributed to the periods of suicidal depression that recurred throughout her life. She began writing verse as a child and in 1952, as an undergraduate at Smith College, won a fiction contest that involved acting as guest editor for a national magazine. On returning home after this interval of literary celebrity, she suffered from a severe depression, attempted suicide, and had to undergo therapy. She recovered fully after a time and graduated from Smith summa cum laude in 1955. The following year she married the British poet Ted Hughes. Plath taught at Smith for a year in 1957 and then spent a year in Boston devoting herself to her work. She also attended lectures given by Robert Lowell at Boston University. In 1959 she and Hughes left America to settle permanently in Britain. Plath published her first book of poems, The Colossus (1960), while they were living in London, where she also gave birth to their first child, a daughter. (A son was born in 1962.) Deciding to live in the country, they bought a house and moved to Devon in 1961. At the end of the following year Hughes went to live with another woman and Plath returned to London with the two children. The remaining months of her life were ones of intense creativity and declining mental stability. While working occasionally for the BBC, she published a novel, The Bell Jar (1963), under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas. A month after its publication she committed suicide by gassing herself.

Plath's major work, the posthumous collection Ariel (1965), consists of poems written mainly during the final months of her life. While often compared to the ‘confessional’ poetry of Lowell's Life Studies (1959), Plath's work has an extreme and painful quality that is entirely original. Other poems written during the final period of her life have been posthumously collected in Crossing the Water (1971) and Winter Trees (1971). Letters Home, a volume of letters written to her mother, appeared in 1975. Her Collected Poems, which won a Pulitzer Prize, was published in 1981.

Subjects: Literature.


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Works by Sylvia Plath

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